John Ireland Wins 2012 Iron Chef Challenge


Note: All photos used here were taken by Nicole Kroll Photography, 518-307-5986.

Two of Saratoga’s favorite chefs, Max London of Max London’s and John Ireland of Panza’s, faced off in the Saratoga Farmers’ Market’s fifth annual Iron Chef Challenge on the morning of Saturday, October 6. Grey skies did nothing to deter the crowd of onlookers who tried to learn about the techniques and flavor combinations used by the professionals.

Recognizing the diverse culinary preferences of its customers, the market this year asked the chefs to develop separate meat-centered and vegan plates, and an optional third plate of their own creation.

“Since our market’s first Iron Chef Challenge in 2008, this has become a favorite annual event among our market customers. It’s inspiring for home cooks to see what our area’s talented chefs can create with autumn’s fresh, local ingredients,” noted Jeff Bowers, President of Saratoga Farmers’ Market Association.

The chefs were allowed to bring butter, flour, oil, salt, pepper, three other ingredients of their choice, and cooking utensils. The cooking equipment was provided by Adirondack Appliance, including a flat-top EVO grill.

Shortly before 9:30 a.m., each chef received a basket of several “mystery ingredients” from the farmers’ market. This year, those items included lamb chops from Elihu Farm, kale from Otrembiak Farm, fennel from Denison Farm, and Gar-La-La, a vegan garlic-potato dip sold at the Wednesday markets by the Zorbas.

This year’s Iron Chef “mystery ingredients,” presented to the chefs just before they began cooking.

Each chef also received $30 to buy additional market items of his choice during a brief shopping period. Then, each chef had one hour of cooking time.

Butternut squash was one of the key ingredients in John Ireland’s third plate.


Max London cooks for the crowd of spectators.

The master of ceremonies for the event was Dave Pedinotti, chef and owner of Mouzon House. Judges for the competition (as pictured in photo below) were:

 All three of this year’s judges are involved in local food blogs and regional food organizations.

Judging was based on criteria including taste, presentation, and originality.


Max London’s Plates

Max London tops his flatbread with Gar-La-La and grilled vegetables.

Max London’s crusted grilled lamb was served with kale, fennel, and ricotta gnocchi.

A fruit-filled crepe with creme fraiche was the dessert that Max London presented to judges.

A random draw at the beginning of the contest determined that Max London would present his plates first to the judges. Each chef had the same amount of time, with John Ireland starting his shop and prep work a short while later. Ireland presented his plates second.
John Ireland’s Plates

A salad of thinly sliced market vegetables, topped with grilled eggplant, presented on a base of Gar-La-La, was the vegan dish prepared by John Ireland.

Ireland’s second plate included grilled lamb, served with bacon fish-sauce jam atop a bed of kale and Brussels sprouts.

For his final plate, John Ireland combined grated butternut squash, goat cheese, pumpernickel crumbs, and plums. The judges found this a very interesting combination.

After sampling each chef’s plates, Ireland was declared the 2012 winner, coming out ahead of London by a few points.

“Our market places an emphasis on helping consumers create fresh, healthy meals from farm-fresh ingredients from this region. We hope this competition might inspire some friendly competitions among families or neighbors, ” noted Market Coordinator and event organizer Suzanne Carreker-Voigt.